I helped kill people's flares of resentment towards their past lives. I helped put down the anguish, in the hearts of others. I distracted some from misery and handed happiness to others. I served poison to all that asked.
I noticed the newcomers for the night. The twenties couple out for a drink, diving in the sea of bad bars and ending up here. He chased his whiskey down with beer. She watched his every move. Infatuation built up in those big brown eyes. He cared for her more than his drink. Even if you couldn’t tell right now. He was still nervous even though the time they had spent together you could tell was nothing new.
The local from down the road with nothing but loose change and alcoholism in his jeans was draped over the new age jukebox. He was looking for one of the songs he played every night while drinking the same drink. He played it even the one time he had been sober. Humans are creatures of habit, he was addicted to this bar and that song playing more than the alcohol. Addicted to the pain it caused him.
On the other side at the back of the room were a group of bikers knotted over themselves more than the wood on the oak table. Their dark leather blended in within the black back corner lacking light. You could hear the chains rattle and motorcycles flare in their conversation. It was nothing you wanted part of without experience you’re never sure you could get. It was these that led up to the three sitting in front of me at the bar.
This middle-aged woman had been here before. Never this beaten down, but she had been here. In the camouflage of smoke that covered the room her sadness lay on the bar. Without a teardrop falling, a puddle of regret and misery stood out.
Celebrating here means the next morning you wind up with nothing to celebrate. Only things to regret. The woman sketched with the sadness in her eyes paid the rowdy group no mind. She sat and listened as if the label she peeled from her long neck was screaming a story at her. Maybe it was pain. The bartender rarely had to ask what was going on. She started off to me. Whimpering bits and pieces of the story were falling out as she explained how the last nine years of her life had been a waste. She was concerned where it was going and what the bottom was going to look like. It took half an hour for her to ramble her problems and the full story. Even as one of the nicest dressed, in the rundown part of downtown she was stuck in, she looked homeless. Not begging for change, food, or prayers, just pity. Her wife had cheated on her. Not only did she find the love of her life next to another soul in the bed they shared, she found her wife with a man. The story went into a downward spiral as she explained this was her wife's administrative advisor. Her fucking boss. She knew this wasn’t the first time but she wasn’t as worried about that. She was strung out over how long they’d been slipping under her nose. She was searching for answers in the others and the bottom of the bottle. She finally got one from a man off to her left.
Shirt unbuttoned, tattered, and stained he was putting the bottle of whiskey down as if it was his only mission left in life. He showed no signs of intoxication. His eyes shot sideways into this conversation as he dropped his only hint. His calming depressing language made everybody around glad he didn’t have access to his handgun here at the bar. He slang the words out like a drunk cowboy on the dirt streets in old Mexico.
“At least you have something to live for, destroying her life in the divorce”
All eyes shot towards him as if to deflect his next shot at the conversation. He continued to talk to his voices. The ones that told him to do things he never did, except drink. It was hard to believe the man with none of his eggs in the same basket could lose them all. His fortune had gone along with his sanity. He wasn’t sure he had enough to pay for the two thirds of the bottle he had already polished. He was positive he couldn’t afford a cab ride home or to stay sober long enough to figure either out. The unshaven, uncleanly fool made a slide at how this would be his last night. He was due to hang in the morning according to his sobering schizophrenia. We all did our best not to hear him out. He ordered another round. While he rarely drank on his meds, now off, he was drowning. I passed him his last double barrel shot and he took it to the head. As the new glass of whiskey touched his lips the company of the bar and the old man seated in the middle touched his heart.
The old man in the middle never moved. He was stationed in the middle like the hull of a boat. He weathered the storms. He disregarded all that tried to knock him off his course, the little splashes they were. He had been in the same elements for most of his life. As his mouth opened and sounds came out I was shocked. Seven years he had been in that seat. Seven years and had said only a little more than his drink orders. If he didn’t hand me his credit card every weeknight I would have long forgotten his name. He Started out with the one thing we were all thinking.
“You each represent one of the phones calls I got that night.” We were astonished he had spoken, especially to us.
“Take your meds. You don’t wanna miss her next few weeks at the bar. Maybe you can support each other looking for your next crutch in life.” He rasped as he brought his glass to his lips.
Before I could begin to ask the questions that had formulated over the last almost decade he shot out his last bit.
“My grandkids were in the car. They were on their way to see me.” The tears started to build up in the bottom of his eyes.
“My only son drove his family to see their dying grandfather. As cancer took over my body my soul slowly weakened. By the time they were on the way to see me, I had been in eight months of chemo. The surgeries, radiation, and sickness left me as white as the sheets I laid on. My skin and bones were my only features. The only reason I kept living was to hold off on their trip to visit me.”
As the tears began to streak down his face his voice became weaker and he went on.
“I didn’t tell them I was almost dead. I didn’t want to cause more pain than I needed to. I just wanted to see the only family I had since my wife died years before I kicked the damn bucket. One last time”
His gaze went from straight -forward to straight down. He was breaking down emotionally as he continued.
“I got the calls that evening. It was November twenty-first. The first was a call from the testing center. They had gotten to know me so well over my time they called me before the doctor could read my results. I was finally leukemia free. It would be a while before I was back to my full self again but this was the greatest news to tell my tiny family as they arrived. I would have been jumping for joy if I could have jumped.”
His voice was slightly higher and more excited than it had been but it was still filled with sorrow and gravel like he had just smoked 12 cigarettes. Then as he came crashing down to his melancholy ridden story, he stopped crying. With a stone face, he started speaking on rails for his last part of the story. With steel in his voice, he spoke slowly with swift words not missing any enunciation in his original and dark delivery.
“They were the next call. The officer called me. Those words took years to fully sink in, yet still caused so much pain when the officer told me that the car had rolled. They wouldn’t tell me if anybody had survived. They just asked me to please come down to the station. I soon came to realize they had all been in the car and none were coming out. My weak body lost the will to live, but I kept going until I could go down to the station. At the police station I figured I would die that night with nothing more to live for. If they had all gone it was my duty to join them. That’s when they brought the dog out. It was a mangy little mutt my son had adopted for his son and daughter. He saved the puppy at the pound almost a year ago. He didn’t tell me the dog was coming. I would have died that night but the mutt who’d been thrown out the window needed somebody to take care of it. It was my grandchildren's dog. It deserved the best. It was family. It was all that was left”
The old man had stood off his stool and raised his glass. We were shocked. We couldn’t move. Nobody had taken a drink in the last five minutes of his storytelling. Even those not paying attention at the back of the barroom seemed to be much quieter now. As the hammed schitzo was about to chime in, the old man started again.
“ That damn dog was the only thing that kept me going. We spent the next year regaining our health. We were each other's companions. Each other's family.”
The old man set his glass down on the bar and laid a crisp clean one hundred dollar bill next to it with a fresh tear on top.
Turning away to walk out he slipped in one last bit for us to be puzzled over. “Today he died too.“ The man said as the door shut behind him.
I helped kill people's flares of resentment towards their current lives. I helped put down the anguish in their hearts from others. I distracted myself from that misery and handed happiness to others. I served poison to all that night.